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ILHS senior rises above tough childhood in foster homes

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By Jenny Hartley

INDIAN LAND – Travis Anderson was walking to school with his brother, Danny, in Laurens when the two brothers were picked up by a police officer.

Travis, 10 years old at the time, was afraid. The police officer took the brothers to the local Department of Social Services office, and then Travis was taken to a group home.Before that day, Travis – now 19 and a senior at Indian Land High School – lived with his mother and seven other siblings. He saw his dad about once a week.“My mom couldn’t take care of me,” Travis said.Travis and his brothers Marion and Danny were bounced from group home to group home, in Columbia, Greenville, Rock Hill. In total, he lived in six group homes during high school alone and went to five different high schools. He sometimes lived with Marion and Danny, and was sometimes separated from Danny, who signed himself out of DSS and moved to Laurens, where he later got into trouble. Travis doesn’t even know where his other four siblings are.Because of all the moving around, Travis repeated ninth grade due to both poor grades and going from new school to new school with little or no documentation of his past school records.Children’s Attention Home executive director Libby Sweatt-Lambert remembers meeting Travis, Danny and Marion nine years ago.“They were scared senseless,” Sweatt-Lambert said. “It broke my heart. The oldest (Marion) – I didn’t hear him speak for the first two weeks.”After moving through several group homes in foster care, Travis received special permission from his case worker to begin staying with the Lamberts, Lancaster residents, on the weekends. Two years ago, the Lamberts said Travis could come live with them, and he started at Indian Land High School. The Lamberts took in Marion and Danny, too.“They adopted us,” Sweatt-Lambert said.Achieving a goalILHS guidance counselor Steve Swinson said the difference in Travis’ life now and before his informal “adoption” by the Lamberts is like night and day.The Lamberts provided structure, and held expectations for Travis and his brothers.Travis has succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations, even his own sometimes. He played basketball and football for ILHS, and made the honor roll. He will graduate on May 30. And he’s made friends, a difficult thing for a teen who’s always been the “new kid.”“It feels good, actually,” Travis said, of his impending graduation. “I accomplished my goal. But then again, I’ve got to go straight back to school.”Sweatt-Lambert said Travis was determined not to become another statistic. Citing the “Connected by 25: A Plan for Investing in Successful Futures for Foster Youth” report from 2006, more than 50 percent of youth aging out of foster care have not graduated high school, and only one in eight former foster youth have graduated from a four-year college, Sweatt-Lambert said.Former South Carolina foster youth have a 30 percent unemployment rate, and employed former foster youth earn well below poverty level. Of those who found employment, only half stayed in their jobs two to four years after they aged out of care.“Because of what I do, I’m more aware of how hard Travis has had to work to graduate,” Sweatt-Lambert said. “I’m very proud of him.”Sweatt-Lambert, who has two daughters of her own, is quick to brag on her other two “sons.” Marion graduated high school and Danny is working on a GED right now.“They have worked so hard not to be one of the statistics,” Sweatt-Lambert said. “To us, this is so much more than Travis graduating from high school.”Taking in Travis, Marion and Danny has been good for the family, Sweatt-Lambert said, beyond just getting the boys to succeed in school. The young men get along well with the Lamberts’ daughters, Alex, 8, and Chauncey, 20. Sweatt-Lambert said she recently had a talk with Travis about the importance of family.“My mom and Steve’s parents are their grandparents,” Sweatt-Lambert said. “Family is the people who love you, care about you and support you. You don’t have to be the same race.”“Family is someone who’s loving, someone who’s willing to take care of you and help with whatever you’re going through,” Travis added.Moving on to collegeTravis will attend the University of South Carolina at Lancaster in the fall, and hopes to get a business degree. He wants to work with his adopted dad, Steve Lambert, who is self-employed in the construction business.Swinson is extremely proud of Travis. He said while other students in Travis’ shoes may have become discipline problems or failed out of school, Travis has had the desire to succeed the last two years.“I’ve seen him develop, and it’s been tremendous,” Swinson said. “He’s a good role model for other students. He has that push, that drive, to instinctively do well.”The Lamberts provided Travis with a stable home life for the first time in his life. They also expected him to do well in school. Travis never rebelled against the new rules and structure. In truth, it felt pretty good to have a new structure in his life, he says.“It feels good to have someone care for you and be there to help you through life,” Travis said. “When she (Sweatt-Lambert) said she was going to do something, she did it.”Even if that meant putting him on restriction for a bad math grade, Travis added, with a smile. But he pulled his grade up and soon got his privileges restored.He wants to thank his English III teacher, Robin Champion, for helping him achieve his goal of graduating.“She helped me actually pass English,” Travis said. “She took time out of her day to help me.”So, has the golden grad surprised himself?“Plenty of times,” Travis said, with a smile. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

– Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at 283-1151